Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #70)

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Image by esereport.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the final excerpt from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 70th excerpt in the blog series.

I dedicate today’s excerpt to an old friend and coaching colleague who passed away last night after living a full life with heart disease. RIP Coach Bob Monges.

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As the heavy sedatives wore off, my vivid dreams manufactured by ICU Psychosis focused more and more on that nasty tube. In addition to the eucalyptus branch, I dreamed of chewing on rubber hoses and McDonald’s straws, and trying to pull out steel pipes that stuck out of my mouth and lodged in my voice box. As I awoke from the surgery, I instantly felt relief.

The small tube inserted into my throat at the neck was held in place by a “trach-collar.” The collar stabilized the tube so that it could be connected to the respirator. Studies have demonstrated that the trach-collar is the most effective path to wean patients off of mechanized breathing. It also relieves pressure on the vocal chords and minimizes additional damage to the voice.

When Sandra reported to the waiting room that I sailed through the operation with no complications, there was a collective feeling of optimism and hope. For more than a month, the waiting room inhabitants had been in a constant state of alert. Every new procedure led to some obstacle that created additional fear and concern. As the hours ticked away, Sandra continued to share good news that the tracheotomy was working. That evening, the waiting room buzzed in an almost festive mood.

The doctor later told me that Sandra was an “incredible woman.” She was a savvy and well-informed advocate, he went on to say. Her questions were always on point. Once she made a decision to move forward with a recommendation, there was no turning back. In a positive way, Sandra was “intimidating,” he said. Her keen understanding of the issues related to my condition once again led to forward momentum.

During the next hours and days, I continued to show improvement. My oxygen numbers stabilized even as respiratory therapists decreased the amount of oxygen the respirator sent to my lungs. My mind continued to clear as the remnants of the strong sleeping medicine dissipated. I wasn’t yet fully aware of my paralysis predicament. It hadn’t dawned on me that I wasn’t eating, drinking, talking, or going to the bathroom. But, I was beginning to recognize a rhythm to the ICU and distinguish between day and night.

Early each morning, an X-ray technician would come into my room to provide doctors with the latest images of my lungs. I could hear the slow rolling of the heavy mobile X-ray machine lumbering closer to my door. That sound was the signal to the start of a new day. The technician, with the help of a nurse or other staff member, raised the bed to a 45 degree angle and held my listless body upright to slide the X-ray tray between my back and the bed. The tray, cold and hard against my skin, would stay in place so the technician could take the picture.

The unit would come alive later in the morning as a kaleidoscope of sounds would fill the air: the sticky sound of rubber-soled shoes quickly walking across the polished linoleum floor, the slow and steady ding-dong at the nurses’ call station, doctors, nurses, and technicians exchanging directives and coming in and out of my room to do tests or change the medication that flowed from the IV forest that surrounded me, the public address system paging doctors, the beeping and whirring of the machines that sustained my life, and the small wheels of the cleaning crew carts rubbing against the floor as they went from room to room.

When Sandra left the room, I became anxious. There were few sounds that soothed me to let me know that she was on her way. Amid the cacophony of activity, a loud buzz followed by a distinctive squeal alerted the ICU that the heavy wide doors leading into the unit were opening.

Seconds later, I could hear the zip-zip sound of the electronic hand sanitizer outside of my room dispensing its cleansing foam onto someone’s hands. In would walk Sandra, sometimes alone and sometimes with someone from the waiting room. I would feel at ease and my anxiety would go away.

I knew when evening and night arrived as the sounds of the day subsided and the movement of people in an out of my room decreased. When Sandra was visiting in the waiting room with friends or out at dinner with family, the only person I saw was the night nurse on duty right outside of my door.

Suddenly, the squealing ICU doors and the zip-zip sound of the sanitizing machine made me feel warm and safe as Sandra brought the girls in to say good night followed by the small parade of family and friends that usually included my brother Steve, Rudy, Will and Juanita, and others. The Peraltas would come in signaling the end of the night.

For the next several days, the routine stayed in place. The tracheotomy was working. Respiratory technicians, on doctor’s orders, regularly decreased the amount of oxygen flowing to my lungs, hastening the weaning process. The waiting room became livelier as my condition showed promise and improvement.

To everyone’s amusement, Pancho was the de facto concierge of the waiting room. With his boisterous personality, he answered phones, directed families to the right place, and soothed the fears of others whom also had loved ones in the ICU. The room would erupt with laughter when strangers went to him for directions for gaining access to the unit.

The stockpile of food and drink kept growing. A variety of water, juices, and soft drinks was available to whoever happened to walk in. The food was getting better. One night a parent from Sandra’s school brought in her homemade tacos that were the talk of the waiting room for weeks. Six years later, Miguel, Eddie, Pancho, and Mariano still rave about the Mexican treats. Sandra’s friend Rosa Garcia always made sure that coffee and pastries were ready for those who stayed late into the night.

Sandra steered the ship. The García girls banded together. Shelley and Rudy kept the room laughing. Mr. Peralta, Val, Eddie, Miguel, and the Medinas quietly provided moral support. Mrs. Peralta, Kim, and Rudy led prayers. My recovery was a true team effort. Hope and faith filled the waiting room as July turned to August.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 9 – “August 4th.”

 

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Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #69)

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Image by jwhouse.org

Author’s note: The following passage is from my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 69th excerpt in the blog series. The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis.

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The next morning, Sandra started her daily routine. After waking from the small cot next to my hospital bed, she checked on me and thanked God for another day. The doctor would be making his rounds later that morning, so she washed up and prepared to take her morning walk to the JW House.

The JW House sits on the western tip of the campus at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.  The facility, designed to look and feel like a home, provides a comfortable supportive place for families facing a medical crisis. The house offers families and individuals with loved ones in the hospital with a place for rest and self-care during the day or overnight.

During the first days of the ordeal Sandra and her waiting room entourage would retreat to the JW House to pray and get away from the pressures of the ICU. Sandra spent the first few nights at the comfortable home-like environment before deciding to stay in the ICU with me. The morning walk and the soothing shower that followed offered the brief respite she needed to take on another stressful and eventful day.

During her walk that morning, Sandra thought about the confrontation with the doctor the day before and wrestled with the options that lay before her. It was clear that the removal of the breathing tube made matters worse. She grew to trust the critical care doctor and his commitment to me and decided to put the previous day’s verbal exchange behind her. Feeling refreshed from the shower and brisk walk, Sandra returned to the ICU confident that the tracheotomy would put me on the right track.

When the doctor arrived for his morning visit, Sandra apologized for her behavior from the day before and confidently informed him of her decision. He warmly smiled and agreed. The surgery would have to wait about 48 hours, he explained, so he could stop administering blood thinning medicine that would complicate the procedure. He also recommended re-intubation so I wouldn’t lose any more oxygen.

After assuring Sandra that the surgeon assigned to me was one of the best in the hospital, the doctor proceeded with the preparation for intubation. Before long, that God awful intrusion was back in my throat until my blood thickened enough for surgery. Again I drifted off into a medically-induced dreamland.

***

I was back in the saddle again. Wearing a classic black tuxedo with a silk black bowtie, I mingled with members of Congress and other corporate executives at a cocktail party at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, D.C. I had a great time hanging out and drinking champagne with a senator.

As the night wore on, I became extremely drunk and my vision blurred out of focus. As the museum spun in circles, the music from the jazz trio got louder and I fell to the floor and passed out in a drunken stupor.

I slowly opened my eyes confused about what had happened. I was alone, lying on the floor of the dark museum, still dressed in eveningwear. I was mute and paralyzed. A branch from a eucalyptus tree was stuck in my throat. The taste of eucalyptus in my mouth made me nauseated. I was scared and anxious. When I tried to shout for help, the only sound that came out was a high-pitched foghorn-like echo.

I could hear footsteps in the distance walking toward me. My heart raced with excitement. Out of the darkness, Sandra and her parents approached me. Sandra was angry and kept asking why I did this to myself. Her parents smiled as Mr. Peralta told Sandra not to worry. Everything would be okay, he assured her.

***

The doctor scheduled the tracheotomy for late Wednesday afternoon on July 26th.  Early that morning, he came in to advise Sandra that a cancellation provided an opportunity for the surgeon to perform the procedure immediately with her approval. Sandra later told me that I was awake at the time and quickly broke into a little smile and my eyes screamed, “yes!” The decision was made.

I vaguely remember the surgeon prepping me for the operation. He was tall and fit, with confident blue eyes and wispy blonde hair. With the brashness of a successful basketball coach, I remember him telling Sandra that the procedure would be “a piece of cake” and that I would be like new in no time. The nurse on duty sedated me for the operation while I patiently waited to be transported to the operating room.

***

The surgery was to take place at a specialized hospital in another city that required me to travel by airplane. As I waited, I could see other gurneys in line ahead of me waiting to board the aircraft. My excitement turned to anxiety because Sandra wasn’t with me in line. As the hospital staff pushed me along the slow-moving line I looked around but couldn’t find her.

With my trusty Blackberry sitting next to me, I figured that I could text Sandra to let her know that I was getting closer to boarding. That wouldn’t work as I couldn’t move my hands to type in the words. When I tried to explain my dilemma to the orderly no sound came out of my mouth. My gurney was inching closer to the door of the jet as panic began to set in.

Finally, just seconds before loading the gurney into the aircraft, Sandra arrived to my relief. She was smiling and assuring me that I would be safe. She had a bag of peanut M&Ms, my favorite candy, in one hand and lovingly stroked my forehead with the other. With a mischievous look in her eyes, she popped few of those sweet nuggets into my mouth. 

Sandra kissed my cheek, and asked God to keep me safe on my voyage. Before I knew it, the jet was  flying through a starry night sky to an unknown destination.

***

The operation was a success. The cocky surgeon did exactly what he said he would do. He made a small incision in my throat puncturing the windpipe to make room for a small tube he inserted that connected to the respirator. I would no longer have the discomfort of the breathing device down my throat, but I would continue to benefit from the machine that pumped oxygen into my lungs.

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Next Wednesday: After the successful tracheotomy and the elimination of heavy sedatives, I became more aware of the sights and sounds of my surroundings. 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #68)

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1960s era fighter pilot – Image by Militariarg.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning from How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 68th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. To learn more about what causes The Dreams, go to Excerpt #53 (https://esereport.com/2016/06/29/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-53/)

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For the first few hours without the tube, I continued to make progress. Doctors were monitoring me closely as Sandra felt the weight of the decision taking a toll. She was excited, nervous, and scared all at once. The question on everyone’s mind was “can he handle it?” Sandra feared that the sudden removal of the tube would cause me to panic, thus impacting my ability to breathe without the security of the device.

As the evening wore on, I started to struggle with each breath. I had a confused look on my face and Sandra couldn’t tell if I was worried or scared. The hollow eyes in my thin face looked out into the distance trying to understand what was happening. Sandra couldn’t even fathom what was going on in my head. She rhetorically asked me in her journal, “What do you remember? What questions do you have? How do you feel? Did I make the right choices for you?”

Just before midnight, phlegm began building up in my lungs. I was too weak to cough out the gooey substance. Nurses tried to remove the phlegm with a suction device without success. I was gasping for air as oxygen levels declined. Doctors and respiratory therapists worked to stabilize my breathing before deciding to reconnect me to the BIPAP machine, the helmet-like device that forces air into the lungs through the mouth.

Sandra was afraid and second-guessed her decision to remove the tube. She turned to her faith for answers. God had taken us this far, she reasoned. Whatever was happening at the moment was His will. As I stabilized and fell into an uneasy sleep, she read Psalm 91:4-5,

“God will cover me with his wings. I will be safe in his care. His faithfulness will protect and defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night of sudden attacks during the day.”

She decided to recommit to God and whispered to me, “We can’t be afraid Babe. We have to trust that God has you in His care. Please don’t get discouraged. Fight!”

***

            I was in the cockpit of a 1960s era Air Force fighter jet feeling weak and incessantly coughing from what was probably my lungs’ adjustment to the thin air at high altitudes. I wore a white fighter pilot helmet and black oxygen mask from the same era. I was so weak from coughing that I found a small couch in the cockpit where I could lay down and rest. Folding myself into a fetal position, I felt helpless as the cough intensified and I struggled to catch my breath. I could hear voices cheering me on to no avail. The air was too thin. I was too weak. I lost consciousness as the jet roared through the sky.

***

Removing the tube wasn’t working. When my regular critical care doctor returned to work on Monday morning, he was surprised to see that I was no longer intubated. I was struggling to breathe with the clear oxygen mask covering my nose and mouth. After reviewing my file for the weekend, he realized that Sandra had elected to forgo the tracheotomy. Meeting with the Sandra in the room, the doctor again recommended the procedure.

Sandra was furious. She interrogated the doctor asking why he hadn’t consulted with the pulmonologist on duty during the weekend. Hurling accusations that the doctors and the hospital were experimenting with my life, she released all of the pent up emotions that had been simmering inside of her for almost two months. The critical care doctor patiently listened and allowed Sandra to express her anger, fears, and frustrations.

I remember hearing and seeing Sandra’s tirade. For the first time since doctors induced me into a coma, real and overwhelming emotion washed over me. I felt the need to intervene and protect Sandra. I understood their conversation and wanted to weigh in as I thought that would relieve Sandra of the pressure to make a decision.

When we made eye contact, I tried talking to her completely oblivious of the fact that my strained vocal chords had rendered me mute. Once I realized that, I wanted to tell her to bring me a laptop so I could write down my opinion. I agreed with the tracheotomy option. I was insistent that Sandra bring a laptop to me. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t move my arms, hands, and fingers.

Reading my lips, Sandra finally understood what I was trying to say. She frustratingly waved me off and said, “NO!” When I persisted, she angrily pointed out that I was paralyzed and that I couldn’t use a computer. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. I don’t remember anything after that.

My road to recovery had experienced yet another bump. Meanwhile, I continued to drift in and out of consciousness, Sandra continued to grapple with the hour to hour decisions that weighed heavily on her, and the waiting room continued to pray and support her and the girls.

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Next Wednesday: Back to square 1. Doctors reinsert the breathing tube into my throat. 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #67)

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Extubation procedure. Image by youtube.com

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 67th excerpt in the blog series.

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The next week was uneventful. My critical care doctor advised that I was ready for the tracheotomy. He believed that the procedure would hasten my recovery and help my lungs to get stronger. At first, Sandra was reluctant because the operation would leave a permanent scar on my throat and could cause even more damage to my vocal chords. After consulting with her inner circle of support, she decided to proceed with the tracheotomy.

The doctor was scheduled to be off for the weekend, so he recommended that I spend the two days resting and getting stronger for the procedure. The pulmonologist on weekend duty would monitor my progress in preparation for the next big step. It had been a long road. The life-support tube had been inserted in my throat for more than four weeks, much longer than was the norm.

I had managed to get through virtually unscathed from all of the potential complications caused by being intubated and connected to the tubes that performed bodily functions for me. In addition to the variety of IV lines that monitored my heart and delivered medication to my listless body, I was connected to a urinary catheter, rectal tube, breathing tube, and feeding tube (inserted through my nose).

All of these intrusions are breeding grounds for viruses and infections which create unmanageable situations that usually result in patients fatally succumbing to the infections rather than the illness that brought them to the ICU. I battled fever for most of July, yet whatever caused the phenomenon never materialized into a serious life-threatening infection.

The enormous amount of oxygen loss during the first days of the month didn’t cause any brain damage, nor did it impact other organs. Despite the fact that my lungs were literally non-functional, my badly damaged heart hadn’t suffered additional deterioration. My heart was weakly hanging on, but plugging along. On doctors’ orders, respiratory therapists had been gradually decreasing the amount of oxygen artificially delivered to my lungs

I hadn’t eaten solid food in over six weeks, so I was a skeletal 153 lbs, losing more than one-quarter of the body weight that filled my frame the day the heart attack hit. My friend Rogelio later remarked that I looked like a “sack of bones on a bed.” While doctors struggled to find answers to the fevers and ARDS onset, they were equally puzzled by the relatively good condition of the rest of my mind and body. I was actually making progress.

The pulmonologist managing my case over the weekend believed that my gains were so significant that he recommended to Sandra that the breathing tube be removed to allow me the opportunity to breathe on my own. Once again, Sandra found herself in a untenable decision-making position.

She was only reluctantly in agreement that the tracheotomy procedure was the best course of action. The argument to give me a chance to breathe on my own by removing the tube was attractive, especially given Sandra’s concerns that cutting into my throat had its own set of complications. She gathered her inner circle to deliberate over the correct answer. As a group they came to the same conclusion: What would Eddie Do?

When the pulmonologist on duty returned on his rounds, Sandra told him to proceed with removing the tube. I was semi-conscious and looking stronger every day. She knew that I’m a fighter and if given the choice myself, I would elect to try it on my own without the tracheotomy. The doctor scheduled the tube removal procedure later that afternoon.

It had been a week since doctors began weaning off the heavy sedative medication, so I have a somewhat hazy recollection of these events. In fact, doctors were growing concerned because it was taking so long for the effects of the medicine to wear off. During that time, Sandra and visitors constantly talked to me trying to get me to respond. Other than a weak smile when I felt Sandra hold my hand or a blink of the eyes when I heard Marisa and Erica’s voices, I showed no sign of waking up.

One night during the last weeks of July, right around the time of Sandra’s decision to take the tube out, Miguel was visiting and suddenly shouted, “Wake up, Comps!”  According to Sandra and the girls, my eyes shot wide open and I scanned the room looking confused before slowly closing my eyes and returning to a peaceful sleep. Everyone present was excited and the waiting room was abuzz when the news got out. Years later, we all still laugh about Miguel’s uncharacteristic outburst that night.

Despite being in this semi-conscious state, I remembered bits and pieces of the extubation episode. The doctor on duty was a tall Asian man with thick black hair wearing wire-rimmed 1980s-style glasses. He had a confident smile and spoke with certainty as he began the procedure that would remove the tube that had occupied my throat for a month.

He began by sending a gust of 100% oxygen into my lungs before extubation. After removing the tape which secures the tube around the mouth, the doctor inserted a new catheter into the windpipe to deflate the cuff that held the tube in place. I vaguely remembered the doctor asking me to take a breath and cough. When I was able to generate a weak breath and cough, he rapidly removed the tube.

Although the final removal took  a mere few seconds to complete, it felt like the tube traveled slowly through my windpipe scraping each and every nerve ending along the way. With the exuberance of a cheerleader, the doctor triumphantly held the tube in his hands. Within a couple of minutes, there was an enormous sense of relief. I was finally free of that awful gagging sensation. Sandra was ecstatic.

Writing in her journal at 2:30 PM that day, she exclaimed, “It’s out!!”

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Next week: Excitement and hope in the waiting room quickly turns to concern and despair.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #66)

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One year after the ICU Psychosis “shark attack,” we celebrated life in a real paradise – Maui, Hawaii July 2011

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 66th excerpt in the blog series.

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At the hospital, Sandra was getting a clear picture of what had happened in the operating room. The procedure to insert the Swan line was routine. As one doctor threaded the line into my pulmonary artery, the other followed the tiny tube’s path on a computer screen. The artery that leads to the heart runs next to the jugular vein. In some cases, the vein and the artery intertwine looking like a braid. That’s how mine are configured.

As the doctor carefully moved the hard wire that guided the tube through my artery, maneuvering the catheter through the curves where the artery and jugular vein met proved to be challenging. As she delicately managed the tight turns while looking at the computer monitor, the hard wire suddenly collided with the jugular vein and punctured it. Blood started squirting out as the doctors worked to contain the wound.

The lead doctor squeezed the vein between the thumb and forefinger of his surgical gloved hand. With the blood making the rubber surface of the gloves slippery, the doctor alternated hands wiping the bright red blood on his smock. The nurse on duty brought in fresh white towels to keep the area around my neck dry. Within minutes, the doctors had contained the situation and stopped the bleeding.

The doctor called a vascular surgeon to evaluate the puncture wound and determine if additional surgery was needed to patch up the vein. The surgeon was at a sister hospital 30 minutes away as my doctors awaited his arrival. In the waiting room, the clock ticked away as Sandra grew more concerned. After several visits to the operating room nursing station, she grew impatient as there was no word from inside.

When the surgeon arrived, he immediately determined that the wound was already in the healing process and surgery wasn’t necessary. Doctors doing the procedure decided to continue and place the Swan line in my heart. They successfully completed the operation in 20 minutes. The lead doctor knew that the conversation with Sandra would be difficult as he walked out into the hallway.

When he emerged from the operating room nearly two hours after the scheduled 45-minute procedure started, Sandra was horrified. The bright white apron covering his smock was smeared with blood. It looked like the apron of a butcher working at a meat factory.

In his calm and reassuring manner, the doctor explained to Sandra what had happened with the jugular vein and how it was resolved. Despite what appeared to be large amounts of blood on his smock, according to my medical record and my later interview with the doctor, I lost just a marginal amount that had no negative impact.

He advised Sandra to be upbeat when she entered the room as I was semi-conscious and probably confused. Although I didn’t know about the punctured vein, a negative reaction from Sandra when she saw the blood-stained towels could have caused me to panic putting stress on my heart.

Sandra later described the scene as “horrible” with blood-soaked towels strewn across the floor and the dressing on my neck covered with the sticky red liquid. She tenderly smiled to reassure me that all was well.

Once again, her faith had been tested. There was the heart attack on June 7th, cardiac arrest on June 18th, the onset of ARDS in late June, the induced coma the first week of July, and then the fever. Now this.

What else would God put me (and her) through? Did He leave anymore fight in me? When she looked at my face and told me that she loved me, I slightly opened my eyes and managed a weak smile. She had her answer. Our fight would continue with God’s help.

The next day, the rhythm of life outside of ICU went on as usual. The Cudas championship swim meet was held at the world renowned Santa Clara International Swim Center, just 10 minutes from the hospital. As our daughters participated in each of their assigned heats in the Olympic-sized pool, Sandra, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, sat on the concrete bleachers with her family proudly watching the girls compete.

Later that summer as I was preparing to leave the hospital, Sandra took me to the ICU to thank the nurses who so skillfully and tenderly cared for me. I didn’t recognize anyone, but for Sandra it was an emotional homecoming.

As I thanked each person who worked with me, a well-groomed nurse wearing a neatly pressed uniform came out of one of the rooms with a beaming smile and said in a familiar voice, “I’m so happy to see you Mr. García.” The nametag on her blouse read, “Fiona.”

A chill ran down my spine as I saw her. I muttered that I had a dream about Fiona as everyone nervously chuckled looking kind of puzzled. When Sandra and I left the ICU, I sat in the wheelchair telling Sandra all about my dream: Mexico, the congresswoman, the beach, the shark, and Fiona tending to the wounds on my neck caused by the shark bite.

Slightly confused, Sandra told me about how doctors punctured my jugular vein during a procedure earlier that summer. Fiona was the nurse on duty that weekend and changed the dressing on my neck several times a day. Sandra fondly remembered that Fiona was always positive and upbeat as she talked to me and treated the small incision on my neck.

That was the first time I realized that fantasy and reality co-occupied my mind in what I later learned was a reaction to the sedative medication and psychosis caused by endless days in the ICU.

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Next week: Doctors recommend a bold move!

The Trump Era: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Students at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy lining up to join campus clubs – November 10, 2016

It’s been an awful few days.

The presidential election and its result have thrown me for a loop. Even though I believe that Hillary Clinton should be president, it’s not her loss that has left me with a queasy stomach. It’s Donald Trump’s victory that has me wandering aimlessly around the house.

Forget that he knows more about ISIS than the generals. Forget that he’ll bring back factory jobs so fast that our heads will spin. What’s most galling is how he demeans people I hold dear: the women in my life, my Mexican brothers and sisters, the Pope. The Pope for Christ’s sake (pun intended)!

For the first 48 hours after the election, its impact on one group of people weighed heavily on my mind and my heart: the high school students I work with on the east side. Nearly all of them are Latino. Most are children of immigrants, some have parents who are undocumented. They are campus leaders who serve on student council and other leadership groups.

Despite the ugly rhetoric coming from our president-elect during the campaign, neither they, nor their families, represent the “worst” of Mexico and other Latin American countries. All of them, yes I said all of them, plan to go to college. They want to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, law enforcement officials, and more.

They are Americans in the truest sense of the word. Unlike many of the American voters that whisked Trump into office, when the world economy changed, the students’ families didn’t stay home complaining that the new economy didn’t work for them. Their parents took risks by leaving their rural homes looking for opportunity wherever they could find it, understanding that education is the key to a better future.

For sixteen months, my students would ask me what I thought about the presidential elections. Could Donald Trump win? Would he really deport 11 million people and break up families? For sixteen months, I told them that America values immigrants, America was the land of opportunity, and that America would never turn its back on the promise to value all its people. Voters are smart, I assured them.

I was wrong.

On Wednesday morning, my heart was heavy. I was someone they trusted, someone who understood how the system works. I felt like I let them down. I don’t have classes on Wednesdays, so I kept in touch with school administrators to see how the students were doing. It was an emotional day for the students, parents, teachers, and administrators. During a “townhall” meeting, students shared their worries and concerns.

Then they responded to the challenges that lay ahead.

The leadership students had work to do, so they got through the difficult day on Wednesday and went right back to work planning a campus Club Fair at one school and a rally at another. When I arrived at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, my students immediately set up tables for the Club Fair. The campus quickly transformed from the worry of Wednesday to the excitement of starting clubs on Thursday.

The scene was from a school campus in “anywhere USA,” albeit with a distinctive Latino vibe. Lines of students waited to sign up for the Wilderness Club, the Tech Club, the Music Club – thirteen clubs in all. In front of the table for the Bailando Studio Club, students cheerfully danced to the thumping mix of Mexican, Latin, and Hip Hop tunes. At the Make-up Club table, student leaders were doing makeovers on the spot.

At Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy, the rally was billed as a “walkout” to protest the election result. The only difference is that the students didn’t really walk out as they planned the event for after school. They value education too much. And it wasn’t really a protest. They students marched on the sidewalk of a busy east side street carrying signs and waving to the honking cars passing by. At the rally, students rose to talk about hope, perseverance, and education in two languages.

I was exhausted as I drove home. The pit in my stomach had given way to the hope in my heart. My students taught me a lesson in leadership by practicing a lesson I taught them, “don’t get mad, don’t get even, get ahead.” I try to live by the quote coined by political commentator Chris Matthews. In my moment of despair, watching my students bounce back from an awful day was inspiring. They reminded me that we are a resilient community. When a barrier blocks our path, we will find another way to forge ahead.

All was not lost on Tuesday night.

Nevada voters, led by large Latino populations in Las Vegas and Reno, elected the first Latina United States senator in our nation’s history. Intolerant state leaders in Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are slowly beginning to lose their tight grip on power as Latino voters made their voices heard throughout the West and Southwest.

The racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, criminally indicted in Arizona for illegally profiling Latinos, was booted out of office after winning six straight elections. The number of Latino city council members in San Jose doubled with the election of a Latina and Latino in non-Latino majority districts.

The country is in transition yet again. That’s the beauty of our system.  Almost half the country wants to change back to the way we were. The other half wants to keep moving forward. We can be angry and dwell on the potential evils of the upcoming Trump Administration, or we can learn from some smart, resilient, and very American students from East San Jose.

They’ve taught us that there’s no value in getting mad or getting even. It’s all about getting ahead. I’m following their lead.

Come join us!

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #65)

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Image by desktopanimated.com

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 65th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics describes a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Delirium.

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When I woke up, I was back in the ICU and everything seemed so clear.  Although I was still connected to a bunch of IV tubes and the intubation pipe was still in my mouth, I was sitting up in the bed and I was aware of my surroundings.

I couldn’t move my arms or legs, but I was reading the newspaper online on a computer screen in front of me. The headline read: SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER SHARK ATTACK. I continued to read about an accident I had in Mexico and that I was still in a seaside hospital there.

I wracked my brain trying to figure out what was happening to me. I remembered being in the hospital, but didn’t know why. Then it all started slowly coming back to me. We were in Mexico at a seaside resort celebrating the Peraltas’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Sandra, the girls, and I were setting up some beach chairs near a clear lagoon. The place was spectacularly beautiful. We ran into the local congresswoman, the girls’ pediatrician, and their husbands. We were sitting on the pristine beach and chatting with the congresswoman and the doctor while their spouses were in the lagoon.

The men were engaged in a water activity that was all the rage for the well-to-do: taking pictures of dangerous sea creatures in their natural habitat. They hired several Mexican guides to lure the beasts into the crystal clear lagoon where they could snap the photos.

As I sipped a cool drink, I saw a large Great White shark enter the lagoon with its tail swaying in the water and bearing its sharp teeth with a swagger that befitted its reputation. With underwater cameras, the two men clicked away capturing the essence and beauty of the majestic sea animal.

After a few moments, the guides began trying to get the attention of the shark to lead it out of the lagoon. But, the shark had different ideas. It had focused on the congresswoman’s husband and sped directly toward him. There was sudden panic in the water and on the beach. While the lawmaker screamed for help, her husband froze with absolute fright in his eyes.

Instinctively, I jumped out my chair and into the water to help.

As I quickly swam, I felt the shark’s large teeth sink into my neck. The beast trashed me about like a ragdoll. The water was swirling around in a tornado of bubbles and foam as if I was caught in the wash cycle of a washing machine. I couldn’t see anything but white bubbles encasing me in a tight grip and all I could hear was the violent swishing sound of water.

Abruptly, everything went dark and silent.

When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed. A nurse with perfectly combed hair and meticulous makeup was tenderly swabbing stitches on my neck and calming me with her soothing voice saying, “you’re going to fine, Mr. Garcia.” The nametag pinned to her sharply pressed uniform identified her as “Fiona.” Sandra sat at the foot of the bed warmly smiling with confident eyes.

I slowly closed my eyes and comfortably fell asleep.

***

The champs rally at the Creekside Cabana was in full swing. Kids and families packed into the small meeting hall tucked into a residential neighborhood to watch the traditional end-of-the year slide show. Outside of the little cabana, an overflow crowd peered through the large windows to catch a glimpse of the spectacle inside.

Marisa and Erica sat on the floor cross-legged in the first row of swimmers laughing and cooing as pop music blared and photos of another memorable summer flashed across the screen. When the show ended, Marisa led the team in a number of cheers that created energy and inspiration for the next day.

From the corner of her eye, Marisa saw her Nina Kim rush out of the cabana with a worried look and the cell phone pushed tightly against her ear. With her brilliant smile and trademark enthusiasm, Marisa continued to shout out chants as her stomach began turning in a moment of extreme anxiety. She feared the worst as bolts of electricity shot through her body.

Nonetheless, she maintained the enthusiastic façade of a leader rallying her troops for the upcoming battle. Minutes later, adrenalin filled her body and blood rushed to her head as she witnessed her Nina and two other moms huddled together holding on to each other in a tearful embrace. Swimming through the crowd as soon as the rally ended, Marisa reached Kim as her heart felt like it was thumping out of her chest.

With a calm that belied her anxious nature, Marisa stood stoically, with tears welling up in her eyes, and gave a definitive directive to Kim: “Nina, just tell me now if my dad died.”

Kimberley assured that I hadn’t died, but confirmed that something went wrong with the Swan line procedure. The details weren’t clear as Sandra was still trying to understand the situation. All that Sandra told her was to bring the girls to the hospital as soon as possible.

Away from the prying eyes and ears of the cabana, Marisa finally lost her composure as anxiety and panic consumed her on the familiar, but seemingly endless, drive to the medical center. She kept asking Kimberley what had happened. Was I dead? Was it my heart? Am I okay? Erica sat in the backseat quietly biting her fingernails. Kim forged ahead with tears in her eyes.

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To learn more about what causes ICU Delirium and The Dreams from my story, click here: https://www.statnews.com/2016/10/14/icu-delirium-hospitals/

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #64)

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Hanging out with the Cudas on a Saturday morning – June 2009

Author’s note: The following passage is from of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 64th excerpt in the blog series.

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They next day was filled with anxiety and promise for Sandra and the waiting room. Doctors were concerned that I hadn’t emerged up from the coma.  Despite my delicate condition, I was moved for the first time in over two weeks to take a CT Scan to rule out a stroke or heavy damage to my organs.

The scan was complete in the early afternoon. Sandra and the waiting room waited anxiously for the results, praying for the best and preparing for the worst. At 4:30 PM, doctors shared the good news that there had been no damage to any of my organs, including the brain.

While my lungs were showing promise and it was clear that the sedative medicine was wearing off, the dreams caused by the medicine and ICU Psychosis became more frequent, more vivid, more real, and in some cases, more scary. Many times I found myself near the water or on a boat absolutely helpless with my hands and feet bound in one way or another.

In some dreams, I saw my dad, brothers David and Stevie, Eddie, Miguel, and Pancho. In others, Rogelio would walk in wearing a tailored suit and carrying a briefcase to get me out of whatever predicament the dream got me into. A few months after I was released from the hospital, I paid a visit to Father Francisco to thank him for his prayers and his intervention. I told him about my dreams hoping that he might have an answer to their meanings.

Without hesitation, he told me that water is the Christian symbol of life, and keeping me in, on, or near water was God’s way of assuring me that I would survive the deadly illnesses that had overtaken my body. He correctly stated that each dream ended with a happy ending where Sandra, the girls, and I were back together.

July 16th brought even more good news. The pulmonologist and critical care physician who had been taking care of me recommended to Sandra the possibility of doing a tracheotomy, a procedure that could speed up my progress. The doctor and Sandra had developed a strong relationship and she trusted his judgment. A father of two young daughters, he appeared to have taken a special interest in my case due to Marisa and Erica’s central role in the waiting room.

A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure that requires an incision in the front of the neck and throat to create a direct airway to the trachea, otherwise known as the windpipe. A tube is inserted into the hole in the windpipe allowing the patient to breathe without using the nose or mouth. After a successful procedure, doctors could take the awful intubation pipe out of the patient’s mouth, air would go directly to the lungs, and the patient would be completely off the sedatives. The only downside is a scar on the throat of the patient after full recovery.

Since I had no advanced directives on file, Sandra would rely on the many discussions we had over the years about how we would live our lives. Knowing that I was a person who did everything full throttle, there was no doubt in her mind that I would have said, “go for it!”

In the meantime, as my lungs were slowly healing, the doctor wanted to make sure that the medical team refocused on my heart as well. He recommended the insertion of a pulmonary artery catheterization line, known as a Swan-Ganz Catheter or Swan line, to monitor my heart. The Swan line is used to detect heart failure and blood poisoning, monitor therapy, and evaluate the effect of drugs.

The procedure was scheduled late in the afternoon on Friday, July 16th. The next day was the championship meet for the Creekside Cudas swim team, so most of the waiting room was at the Creekside Cabana for the traditional pre-meet rally.

Marisa and Erica had been on the team since they were in elementary school. Val and Kim’s kids were also on the team, so Saturdays during the summer were family gatherings at the pool. Marisa had been chosen co-captain of the team that summer, so she played a key role in organizing and coordinating the rallies.

Mr. and Mrs. Peralta stayed with Sandra at the hospital to provide support while I was undergoing the Swan line procedure. Rudy also decided to stay with Sandra and the Peraltas until the procedure was done. The doctor explained to Sandra that inserting a Swan line was common and that he expected no complications. The procedure would last no more than 45 minutes to an hour.

Before leaving my side, Sandra said a prayer and kissed me on the cheek.

Preparation for the procedure was actually one of the first things I remember, albeit vaguely, after doctors began reducing the sedatives. For a brief moment, I could see activity around the bed and hear what I later came to know as the pulmonologist’s soothing voice. I was under a white tarp-like cover and wrapped in a white surgical gown. The doctor told me to relax as I fell into a peaceful sleep.

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Next Wednesday: Shark Attack!!

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #63)

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The “three loves of my life.”

Author’s note: The following passage is from of Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 63rd excerpt in the blog series.

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During the week after the party, the waiting room was back to its daily rhythm. Melody would arrive in the morning to join Sandra and Mrs. Peralta, regular visitors would stop by throughout the day, Val and Kim would spend lunchtime there, Rudy would arrive after finishing his milk delivery route, and Will and Juanita would show up after work as would the rest of the Peraltas with Marisa and Erica.

As the evenings wore on, more visitors would arrive, many with food and snacks. Pancho and Miguel would be the first to survey the offerings. According to Pancho, small burritos made by one of Sandra’s friends would quickly disappear as Miguel popped them into his mouth like bite-sized tater tots. Of course, Miguel said that Pancho was the main mini-burrito popper. Either way, I’m sure that those bite-sized snacks didn’t last too long once they passed the threshold of the waiting room.

Sandra would emerge from the ICU from time to time to provide updates and visit. Before the evening was over, Rudy or Kim would gather everyone in a prayer circle sending hope into my room. Mrs. Peralta would say her goodbyes after rubbing my arms, legs, and head with oil and praying to St. Jude. The “night shift” would arrive usually with a Starbuck’s coffee carrier to share with those who stayed late into the night.

In the ICU, my lungs continued to show slight improvement. Throughout that week, doctors remained puzzled about the cause of my fever as test after test showed no signs of infection. One day the fever peaked at 102.7 degrees.

Miraculously, my badly damaged heart remained stable as the acute respiratory distress syndrome wreaked havoc on my lungs and body. For a brief moment, my heart raced to 150 beats per minute requiring another dose of medicine to regulate the heart rate. These moments always put Sandra on high alert.

I was slowly weaning off the sedative and paralytic medication, so doctors considered the possibility of gradually removing me from the life support machines. When Sandra was in the room I began to physically respond when she talked to me. My eyes moved under the lids when she spoke and I weakly tried to open my mouth as if I was trying to reply. Sandra was overjoyed by these tiny steps of progress.

When she was alone in the room with me, Sandra also exercised my legs and arms in regular intervals as directed by doctors. She studied and learned the significance of every number that flashed on the computer monitors. With that information, she would brief nurses during shift changes to make sure they understood my situation and discuss with them the best course of action to take during that shift.

As the week progressed, so did the numbers that Sandra so diligently tracked. On the morning of July 12th, the ICU doctor shared great news with Sandra. My lungs had “turned the corner,” he told her. Within hours, respiratory therapists removed the nitric oxide machine and lowered the oxygen input of the ventilator to give my lungs a chance to get stronger.

Just two weeks before, I was on three machines clinging to life. Now, a tiny pin-like light was visible at the end of this nightmarish tunnel.

Doctors also believed that they found the source of my infection in the intestines, which caused discomfort and fever. They were confident that the issue would be resolved in a matter of days with antibiotics.

While still in critical condition, I was headed in the right direction. That afternoon in her journal, Sandra gave credit to the day’s turn of events to God. She wrote that my will to live and “God knowing we need you here with us” carried the day. “Trust steadily in God,” she continued, “love will pull us through.” She also began writing with confidence that “very soon we’ll be on our way home to get you stronger.”

As the sedatives wore off, I would respond to Sandra and the girls by shrugging my shoulders, twitching to their touch, and slightly opening my eyes. Sandra wrote excitedly the next day that I opened my eyes enough that she was convinced that I could see her as the corners of my mouth struggled to turn up making a weak smile. During the girls’ nightly visit, Sandra asked if I could hear them. I winked my eye to the delight of the three loves of my life.

They next day was filled with anxiety and promise for Sandra and the waiting room. Doctors were concerned that I hadn’t emerged up from the coma. Despite my delicate condition, I was moved for the first time in over two weeks to take a CT Scan to rule out a stroke or heavy damage to my organs.

The scan was complete in the early afternoon. Sandra and the waiting room waited anxiously for the results, praying for the best and preparing for the worst. At 4:30 PM, doctors shared the good news that there had been no damage to any organs, including my brain.

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Next Wednesday: Vivid dreams caused by ICU Delirium intensify as I start to emerge from the coma.

Summer in the Waiting Room: My Spiritual Journey

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Author’s note: The third and final part of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life” will explore my spiritual journey since that fateful summer in 2010. The following excerpt is the introduction to Part Three.

Part Two, Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” will continue next week with Excerpt #63.

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I embarked on a journey to understand God sometime in early August 2010. Before that, my conception of God was a mythical symbol that lived in the pages of Holy Books interpreted by men developing cultural philosophies. I was baptized, received communion, confirmed, married, and given last rites as a Roman Catholic. Despite receiving all the sacraments the Church has to offer, I was unsure of God’s presence in my everyday life.

When the chaplain at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center walked into my room in the ICU that August day, I was in the depths of an emotional meltdown. Fully awake, but paralyzed and with a breathing tube in my throat, I was in the beginning stages of irreversible hopelessness. I listened to the chaplain talk about faith and gratitude.

My journey toward true spiritual understanding began that day. It wasn’t an “aha” moment. In fact, I’ve learned that the road to discovering God has no end. A few days later, a doctor expressed confidence that I would fully recover from a deadly side effect that left me in a coma for six weeks.

He said that a “higher power,” not so much his years of training and caring for patients, was responsible for the miraculous turn of events. My condition rapidly improved with each succeeding day. My mind was filled with wonder and swirled with questions.

God is a universal cosmic force that’s had many names throughout history and around the world. The ancients referred to “nature” when explaining the causes and effects of the universe. Native American and other cultures use the term, “The Creator.” When scientists can’t fully describe the cause of a phenomenon, they call it “universal law.”

Whether you practice Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism or any other organized religion or philosophical tradition, faith in God is the cornerstone to understanding the inexplicable. No matter your religious, spiritual, or scientific tradition, that “higher power” brings meaning to the universe.

Since those early days in August 2010, I’ve been on a personal faith journey. Some days are marked by calming enlightenment and others have led to uncomfortable uncertainty. At one moment, the meaning of my life and God’s role in it seems to make sense. In another, it makes no sense at all.

The massive cardiac episode that changed my life has left me with a heart that works at about ¼ of the efficiency of a healthy heart. This has placed severe limitations on my energy. As a result, I have plenty of time to think, reflect, and pray on what God and faith mean to me. I usually do this when I’m on my daily walks.

Sometimes I step out to my beloved arbor in the backyard and sit in the coolness of its shade contemplating all that my family and I have been through. For family and friends, the 100-day ordeal in the ICU, operating rooms, and hospital ended six years ago. For me, it’s a daily reminder of the majesty of God.

On the road to enlightenment, I’ve learned that having faith in God is the key to understanding our place in this uncertain and ever-changing world. As is my nature, I went to the bookshelves to unravel the mystery of faith.

A dear friend introduced me to Marcus Aurelius and the ancient philosophers of Stoicism. My brother David shared New-Age writings about God. Other friends recommended that I delve into the works of Mahatma Ghandi, Muhammed, Buddha, and Paulo Coelho. Reading such diverse viewpoints on a common theme inspired me to dig deeper into my own religious upbringing and tradition.

The words of Jesus Christ and the Gospels are more meaningful to me as a result of my literary excursion. I came to realize that faith can come in many forms. Throughout my journey, I’ve come to believe that faith is rooted in acceptance, gratitude, and doing good.

ACCEPTANCE

I’m a classic “Type A” personality. I use to work tirelessly. After 106 days in the hospital, five weeks in a coma, two months in the ICU, three weeks of intensive physical rehabilitation, and three years of building up strength, I wanted to be “normal” again. That didn’t happen.  Frustrated and angry, I persistently asked God, “Why me?”

Reflection and prayer led me to the answer: “That’s just the way it is.”

Once I realized that there was nothing I could do to change the fact that my heart works at ¼ its capacity, I was able to move on with my life. Through exercise, diet, and faith, I stay healthy enough to make the most of what life has to offer. Acceptance has inspired to pursue longtime passions like writing and working with high school students on the east side.

GRATITUDE

The concept is simple, “be thankful for what you have.” I struggled most with this concept because it flies in the face of our modern way of life. The American notion of working hard to obtain things is embedded in our culture, so the idea of acquiring “more” is valued over “settling.”

I fell into this dangerous trap. Acquisition of material goods didn’t drive my ambition. I thrived on being recognized for my “successes.” Along with recognition come legions of supporters with whom to celebrate accomplishments. When my energy level dissolved along with my weak heart muscle, the acknowledgement for which I worked so hard evaporated as well.

I grew resentful.

Learning the true of meaning of gratitude changed that. God has given me the gift of a second life with an amazing family and a tight circle of wonderful friends. There was a time when I took this for granted. Now I don’t. I thank God for them and celebrate with them every day. This revelation has helped me see the power of being grateful for all of God’s offerings.

DOING GOOD

In 1 Timothy 6:18, God tells those he has showered with gifts “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” This concept has always been part of my being. I fondly remember my parents sharing what little they had to help those who were less fortunate. I took these values with me into my professional and public life.

Somewhere along the way, the lines blurred between good works and professional advancement. In the rough and tumble worlds of business and politics, winning is the ultimate goal. I’m proud of the good I was able to accomplish in leadership positions. But, I also enjoyed the satisfaction of triumph. I’ve come to understand that that’s not what God means in Timothy.

My spiritual journey has inspired me to dedicate every day to try my best, with this gift of a second life, to do good in the way God intended: No recognition. No fanfare. No expectations.

The path to a better understanding of faith has been frustrating, revealing, and humbling. It’s also been therapeutic and full of love and understanding. No matter what religious, spiritual, or philosophic traditions, or lack thereof, you subscribe to, my life is testimony to the healing power of acceptance, gratitude, and good work.